Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) have lived together for around three decades in this town house in Paraguay, remnants of a time when they and other families held the power over the country, yet now are reduced to eking out a living on what remains of their fortune, augmented by being forced by circumstances to sell off some of their possessions. There is always a market for antiques, but the middle-aged couple are finding themselves left behind by society that couldn't care less about them, unless they break the law, in which case they suffer the consequences. Chiquita has been convicted on charges of fraud, a state of affairs that threatens to break them up for good...
The Heiresses, despite having to scour around for its budget from almost ten separate countries, was a Paraguayan film, not something that is much of a boast internationally since there is not a lot there to have made an impact cinematically before The Heiresses, or Las herederas in its original title. That said, you could argue this didn't make a lot of waves either, aside from film festival awards: outside of its homeland there would not be too many who could name this as a lauded production unless you were a dedicated film buff who made a point of seeking out non-mainstream works, which this could be described as if you were being completely honest.
Not helping was that director Marcelo Martinessi, making his debut feature after a selection of shorts, kept his tone quiet at best, muted at worst, leaving the audience to divine precisely what was going on in the reserved Chela's mind by picking out details of her facial expressions or body language. We can surmise the relationship between her and the soon to be absent Chiquita has grown stale through a lack of engagement, complacent that their lives thirty years ago would be the same thirty years later, as indeed they have been, but now, finally things are changing and the stagnant existence which the world is chipping away at is set to move on at last, despite itself.
Once Chiquita is incarcerated, Chela is lost; she still has their large, gloomy home - much of this was filmed in half or almost complete darkness to emphasise the isolation - but is moved to hire a maid to take on the duties her partner would have in an attempt to keep her sense of normality as fixed as possible. However, a chance encounter with the more outgoing Angy (Ana Ivanova) stirs something in the woman, and she begins to find a point to her life: by helping others, if only as an unofficial taxi service in her old banger for the women about her, she can open up to opportunities she might not otherwise ever have considered. While she visits Chiquita in prison, the more exciting Angy offers a way out of what had been a cowed, stunted way of life: but is she brave enough to go through with it?
That was the story in a nutshell, do you stick with what you know no matter how much it had limited your quality of life, or do you bite the bullet and try something new, make the most of everything available to you? This was nice enough in concept and in execution, especially when you knew Brun was taking her first acting role in a film (and Irun her second), which seemed to parallel this late in life blooming theme, and she did very well assuming you were able to empathise with a very tentative performance. You had to presume that was by design rather than accident, and in its Sunday afternoon on the sofa manner you could find it quite touching, it was certainly not as in your face as some of the gay cinema of its contemporaries that had been more splashy and loud, therefore ironically making it stand out if anyone cared to seek it out - the almost total lack of men was an interesting device. But while the events depicted meant a lot to its central character, that tasteful remove (in the main, there was a little bad language and adult conversation), it was so quiet that it almost reduced itself to timidity.
[Thunderbird have released this on DVD in the UK.]